Siri & Shortcuts in iOS 12

Easily the most impressive feature of iOS 12 is the integration of Workflow into the operating system as the recently-rebranded Siri Shortcuts. Apple’s on-stage demos of Siri Shortcuts have consisted of people explaining a half-dozen different actions these shortcuts perform, as funneled through one simple command. However, Siri shortcuts are also tremendously helpful at drilling down into an application to complete one task without opening that application when it would be inconvenient to do so.

For example, when I’m playing Clash Royale, which has been filling a strategic hole in my heart for some time, I often want to skip Overcast to the next chapter of the podcast I’m listening to. You can only take so many SquareSpace ads.

Before iOS 12, this meant flipping over to Overcast in the multitasking switcher, expanding the current podcast to fill the whole screen, and then tapping the next chapter arrow. Finally, I’d flip back to the game to see that I had lost one or all of my towers and the game was probably over.

In iOS 12, with Overcast 5, you can configure a list of shortcuts within the app to handle practically any function of the app from changing the playback speed to skipping the current chapter. That changes the scenario to one step, “Hey Siri, Overcast next chapter.” Siri isn’t always fast, but she is definitely faster than swapping to Overcast app and attempting to do the same thing.

There is a lot more functionality in Shortcuts that I haven’t even tried yet, and this example was only simplifying one task into one command instead of several tasks, but it feels obvious at this point that these programmable actions can alleviate some of the burden placed on users to adapt to iOS.

My main gripe with the Shortcuts functionality as it exists today, and with Siri in general, is that Siri takes over the whole screen when it isn’t necessary to do so. Many Siri activities that aren’t even shortcuts only necessitate a small confirmation that the requested action took place. The iPhone 6 Plus-sized devices (and especially the XS Max) cry out for a small window of the screen to pop-up a Siri response, then nobody will miss out on their game of Clash Royale just to skip a podcast ad.

Part of the problem that causes Apple to dedicate the entire screen to Siri may be the low confidence we all have in Siri to hear us correctly. Even today I couldn’t get my (Series 1) Apple Watch to understand a simple request for a timer (CW: misogynistic slur in text). The misunderstanding turned the request for a timer into a nasty message that I was surprised to read, then a few tries later it became a request for information about a movie I don’t want to see. Finally, I gave up and set the timer myself. On the iPhone a full-screen Siri response gives you the ability to see and edit the request if it was misunderstood like my 20 minute timer was on the Watch.

Once Apple’s confidence in Siri is higher, we may get that partial-screen response to our requests. I recommend keeping up with Shortcuts via MacStories.

Peace Pulled From App Store

Marco Arment:

I’ve pulled Peace from the App Store. I’m sorry to all of my fans and customers who bought this on my name, expecting it to be supported for longer than two days. It’ll keep working for a long time if you already have it, but with no updates.

If you want a refund, here’s how you do that.

It was the best ad blocker out there on iOS 9, because Marco could be trusted to do the right thing as he’s done previously with his apps. It’s a shame to see it pulled, but you’ve got to do what you feel is right. I’ll be switching back to Crystal.

iOS 9 Out; Go Block Ads

iOS 9 is out today for your iPhones and iPads. It is fine, I’ve been running the public betas for a long time now, you could read Federico Viticci’s 23 page review for a second opinion. My favorite feature is that you can now block advertisements and tracking sites (they know what you do and decide to advertise socks to you if you visit a shopping site that sells socks, or just sell your browsing data) using any of a huge list of content blocker apps. I will be using Marco Arment’s Peace, which seems to have the best options and defaults. Unfortunately this will only work in Safari and the mini-browser you see within apps. It won’t work inside Facebook or other apps that have advertising within them, for example.